(Investigator 127, 2009 July)

Since ancient times there has existed a belief known as Vitalism. This is the belief that the natural world contains a universal life-energy that animates, and sustains all life. This concept has been expressed in many different forms, one of which was that since all plants contained this life ¬energy they could be used to cure sickness and heal injuries by transferring their inherent energy to humans.

Humans have used plants for healing for tens of thousands of years; the earliest forms of plant therapies apparently being based upon homogeneous principles. Also known as Sympathetic Magic or the Law of Similarities, this was a belief that if an object or substance had a colour or shape similar to something else, then there was a subtle "spiritual" connection between them that accentuated their healing ability. On this basis for instance, it was assumed the best herbs to treat bleeding were red-coloured flowers or plants, while those with red stems, such as Mugwort, and rhubarb, were considered especially effective in the treatment of menstrual discharges, and to prevent hemorrhaging after childbirth.

This archaic belief has persisted throughout history, and one of the more recent applications of the belief that plants contain a "spiritual healing energy" was Bach Flower Therapy, a concept devised by Dr. Edward Bach, (1886-1936) M.B., B.S., M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., D.P.H. a British physician and pathologist.

He noted that although patients might have a similar stature, and similar diseases, there were often differences in the time that it took them to recover. He formed the opinion that, over and above their body's natural predisposition for recovery, patients needed some additional natural force; he concluded this was their emotional composition and, in particular, their attitude towards life.

This was not a new observation; for instance, Hippocrates had noted that "melancholic" women were more susceptible to cancer than those of a sanguine or phlegmatic nature. Similar ideas were quite common in the 19th century. Influenced by the widespread interest in Mesmerism, Spiritualism, Transcendentalism, New Thought and Christian Science there was diverse opinions as to the actual origins of sickness and disease.
While the medical profession attributed ill health to actual physical disorders, others claimed illness was simply a manifestation of disordered mental attitudes, or even that all forms of illness were merely figments of the individual's imagination.

Bach appears to have been heavily influenced by a number of such metaphysical concepts, including a belief in the existence of the Soul and that it was reincarnated on a regular basis. He had a preoccupation with a spirit-body dichotomy, referring to the "Soul", a spiritual component, and the Mind, which represented the physical body, with all its beliefs and attitudes.

The relationship between the two parts of the individual being are somewhat reminiscent of the Gnostic teaching that the Soul was a spark of the divine light, the godhead, that had been placed in corporeal bodies, where it experienced the trials and temptations of human flesh. In a similar fashion Bach suggested the Soul came from a superior plane of existence, and was reincarnated into a physical body. Yet, despite having a symbiotic relationship with that body, the Soul was the principal component, "the real self' (p. 12); the body was simply a container for the transcendental Soul, and, as such, represented only "the minutest reflection" (p. 12) of the true being.

He came to believe that the corporeal body, existing in a physical world, tended to become so overwhelmed that it strayed so much from its proper higher spiritual objectives that much of what humans came to believe, and do, was completely contrary to the higher, purer objectives of the Soul. This created a condition of constant conflict as the individual was drawn between the objectives of the Soul and the temptations of the Mind (body).

These were manifested in a number of negative emotional conditions, that produced physical and mental "diseases", all of which were essentially "spiritual disorders". As such, they could not be cured by physical treatment, they could, "...never be eradicated except by spiritual and mental effort." (Bach and Wheeler, 1997, p. 10)

He increasingly sought to find natural cures for these "Soul" disorders, and in 1930 he abandoned his regular medical practice completely and withdrew to the country-side to continue his work looking for alternative forms of healing.

Although an orthodox practitioner, Bach became increasingly disillusioned with mainstream medicine and began to seek answers in the mystical, transcendental sphere, a quest that led him to adopt the vitalistic approach that it was necessary to treat the individual rather than the illness.
It appears that the "healing process" Bach evolved was based upon an analogy of the interaction of the four elemental substances, earth, air, water and fire. To the ancients all matter had been created from these four elements, all of which were believed to contain a basic elemental creative power. Bach believed that, as plants drew water up from the Earth, with it they drew the life-giving creative energy of the earth; to which was added the energy of the air, and finally, the fiery energy of fire which came when the sunshine "heated" the plant to draw the energy out of the plant. The end result of this process was that the essence of this life-energy emerged from the plant into the dew that formed upon plants overnight.

Since the quantity of the "essence" was severely restricted by the small amount of dew that could form on a plant, Bach sought to replicate the process by other methods. One of these, the "sun method", involved picking the flowers on a warm day in the sunshine and sprinkling them with water freshly drawn from a local spring, and placing them in a glass container which was left in sunshine for a period between two to four hours. This was, according to Bach, enough time for the sunlight to transfer the "vibrations" (the energy) of the flowers into the water. Once the water had absorbed this floral energy the flowers were removed and the water mixed with an equal amount of alcohol, usually Brandy, and then bottled.

When used to treat patients this solution would be further diluted by adding more water. For those plants that did not bloom in the summer Bach employed a "cooking method" of distillation, where the plant material was boiled in water, then filtered, the resulting solution mixed with an equal amount of alcohol, then bottled and used in the same fashion as material obtained by the sun method.

Bach Flower Therapy is essentially an amalgam of Vitalism and several other pseudo-scientific theories. One aspect of vitalism was that, rather like the strings of a huge musical instrument, all matter in the cosmos "vibrated" at different frequencies. An ancient Hellenic concept, based in part upon Pythagorean theory, it was believed that living beings also vibrated at a specific frequency. This formed the basis for an alternative form of therapy known as "vibrational medicine" the belief that the human "dynamic energy system" was attuned to that of the cosmic vibrational energy. As Jacka (1989) noted, "...these energies are seen as the cause of health or disease". (p. 61)

The belief is that, while the human energy field remained "in tune" with this infinite vibratory source, good health, harmony and a positive life-style prevailed; however, if there was any interference with this cosmic connection, severe dissonance would result causing physical or mental disharmony in the life and health of the individual.

Bach proposed that although the reincarnated Soul, a fragment of the divine godhead, was "imprisoned" within the physical body, it nevertheless retained a subtle connection to the great field of universal energy, the supreme being that was its creator. However, because the Soul was often overwhelmed by human frailties the resulting conflict between the Soul and the Mind upset the energy potentials of both, severing, or at least interfering with, the psychic connection. This created a sense of disharmony, producing an ever increasing sense of personal alienation and negativity. However, because the floral remedies had the same energy frequency as that of the godhead and the Soul they were able to act as a medium, reuniting the Soul and the Mind so that the entire organism was once again attuned to the godhead.

According to Bach each plant had a unique vibrational "energy-signature" that was transferred into the dew, and because this vital-energy could be transmitted to the individual using his flower therapy, the individual would experience feelings of relaxation, and, more specifically, it would remedy the specific psychological disorders causing the disharmony between the Soul and the Mind.

There are many serious problems with the various concepts that are the basis of Bach Flower Therapy.

The first problem is that, while it purports to be a scientific theory it is nothing of the sort, it is clearly based upon spiritual and religious concepts, a complex amalgam of Vitalism and Gnostic teachings.

Another major problem is that the entire process is based upon the subjective "intuitive" observations of one individual, and as such is not only completely unscientific but also profoundly unreliable.

While the term "intuitive feelings" is an accepted part of alternative forms of therapy, it has no place in real science. Proper science is based upon objective research, where tests are repeated by numerous researchers and the results are always the same. The "impressions" that Bach claimed to have perceived are scientifically invalid since they cannot be repeated.

Ultimately one must ask if the Bach therapy actually works – to which one must respond Yes and No!

It does work for some people but only because, like all forms of alternative therapy, it relies heavily upon suggestion and the belief by the user in the efficacy of the process.

In effect, when the Bach treatment is actually successful, it is merely an example of the placebo effect.

Various studies of the Bach method by various researchers, including Walach et al (2001), Ernst (2002) and Pintov et aI (2005), found that there was no evidence to suggest the Bach method was any more effective than a placebo, in other words, the process is an invalid form of treatment.


Bach, E. and Wheeler, F.J. (1997). The Bach Flower Remedies, Revised Edition. New Canaan, Connecticut: Keats Publishing, Inc.

Ernst, E.(2002). "Flower remedies": a systematic review of the clinical evidence. Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift 114 (23-24): 963-966.

Jacka, J. (1989). Frontiers in Natural Therapies: Port Melbourne: Lothian Books.

Pintov, S., Hochman, M., Livne, A., Heyman, E.,and Lahat, E. (2005). Bach flower remedies used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children - a prospective double blind controlled study. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology, 9(6): 395-398.

Walach, H., Rilling, C. and Engelke, U., (2001). Efficacy of Bach-flower remedies in test anxiety: a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial with partial crossover. Journal of Anxiety Disorder, July-August 15(4) 359-366.

L. Eddie

Get the truth not only about Bach Flower remedies but also on hundreds of other topics on this website